The hunt is always on for the next big puzzle idea.
Sometimes, it’s an old idea that gets repackaged and catches fire. That’s what happened with Sudoku, a puzzle that had been around since the late ’70s, but only rose to prominence decades later.
Other times, it’s a combination of different puzzle types that yields something special. Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles, for instance, have a popular puzzle called Anagram Magic Square, which combines crossword-style cluing, anagrams, and the mathematical element of a magic square to create an engaging puzzle experience you can solve from several angles.
Whether a puzzle is destined for superstardom or not depends on a lot of factors: difficulty, the type of solving it involves, how intuitive the solving is (i.e. needing a lengthy explanation vs. getting the gist of the puzzle from a glance), visual aesthetics, and more.
As a puzzler, it’s always exciting to try out a new puzzle. Wholly original ideas are rare, to be sure, but even a single twist on an old classic can be enjoyable if executed well.
Today, we’re taking a look at a puzzle that combines Sudoku with cryptic crosswords (aka British-style crosswords). It’s called Cluedoku, and it was created by cryptic constructor Charlie Methven, better known in solving circles as Chameleon, a contributor to British puzzle outlets like The Guardian.
[Just a sample of the puzzle. Check out the entire puzzle here.]
Like Sudoku, Cluedoku involves placing the digits 1 through 9 into each row, column, and 3×3 square in the grid. But unlike Sudoku, there are no set letters.
Instead, you have 81 clues, one for every cell in the grid, utilizing cryptic-style cluing to hint toward which of the nine numbers goes in a given cell.
Once you’ve unraveled a clue and placed a number in the grid, standard Sudoku rules apply: that number will only appear once in a row, column, or 3×3 square.
But that’s easier said than done. These clues run the gamut of slyly clever to almost baffling. Even when you consider that there are only nine possible answers for each clue, it’s still a challenge. (Plus, not all of the clues adhere to the standard cryptic cluing mechanic of having both a definition AND a wordplay clue included.)
That being said, you’ll find lots of traditional cryptic cluing tricks at play here.
Now, we’re going to be discussing specific clues and answers from this puzzle, so this is your spoiler warning.
Last chance to solve without spoilers!
Okay, here we go.
In terms of traditional cryptic cluing gimmickry, we see hidden words, anagrams, homophones, word reversals, and more.
In clue 6 — Axis revolves without beginning to accelerate — we revolve (aka reverse) axis to spell SIXA, and then drop the A (“without beginning to accelerate”) to spell SIX.
In clue 8 — Prime cut from sloth reeks — the answer hides in plain sight, as a prime number (three) reads out in sloTH REEks (and can be cut out of it).
In clue 22 — Scenes in X-Men Origins reveal how many claws Wolverine has! — the phrase “origins reveal” points towards the first letters of the words that precede it proving the answer, meaning that SIX is the number of claws Wolverine has (three on each hand).
There is a similar game in clue 67 — With only seconds remaining, Officer Columbo outwits crook — which has the second digits of “Officer Columbo outwits crook” spelling out FOUR.
In clue 27 — UFO demolished third of Parliament Square — the letter R (“third of Parliament”) gets mixed up with UFO to make FOUR, a square.
But other clues would be familiar to crossword solvers in America.
Clue 29 — Number of Romans in the New Testament? — is simple wordplay for 6, since Romans is the SIXth book. (Similarly, clue 62 — Number of lines taken by bar staff — is a reference to the FIVE lines that make up a staff in sheet music.)
Clue 34 — Top score in Scrabble — is a bit more devious, requiring you to know that T is worth 1 point, O is worth 1 point, and P is worth 3 points, making the correct answer FIVE.
Clue 48 — Man’s arms’ legs’ digit — feels like a clue you’d see at the Indie 500 or Lollapuzzoola, because it’s initially baffling, but then reveals itself as merely clever and challenging. You see, there are THREE legs on the coat of arms for the Isle of Man. But that’s concealed by the wordplay involving three different words that don’t mean what you’d think.
This mix of American and British-style clues made for a fun solve that mixed and mingled two worlds of cluing nicely.
I think my favorite clue was Clue 39 — 192+284 — because it was built like one of those magazine word puzzles, the ones where “rockcaughthardplace” means “caught between a rock and a hard place.” In this case, you have “2+2” literally in 1984. And for anyone familiar with George Orwell’s famous novel, 2+2 in 1984 equalled FIVE.
Although obviously Cluedoku isn’t really sustainable as a recurring puzzle — you’d burn out your anagrams and homophones pretty quickly, as Chameleon himself stated in an interview — it is an impressive marriage of two different puzzles that rarely interact otherwise.
But he did raise the possibility of another variation in the future:
If I did another Chameleon cluedoku, I think I’d use the seven colours of the rainbow plus black and white, as solvers could then colour in each square as they solved. How’s “Cry over Norwich’s core Canary”?
That sounds like a fun follow-up to an interesting puzzle.
What did you think of Cluedoku, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you.
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